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17 US states sue Trump administration over visa rule on foreign students

Seventeen US states and the District of Columbia sued the administration of President Donald Trump to reject the federal government’s recent rule stripping foreign students of their visas if the institution they are enrolled in only offers online teaching this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, the lawsuit came exactly one week after the US Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released guidelines vowing to invalidate foreign students’ F-1 and M-1 visas if the educational institution they are enrolled in switches to online-only courses, possibly depriving them of their legal status of stay in the United States, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

“The Trump Administration didn’t even attempt to explain the basis for this senseless rule, which forces schools to choose between keeping their international students enrolled and protecting the health and safety of their campuses,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Boston, sought an injunction to stop the entire rule from going into effect, accusing the federal government of engaging in a “cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action to expel international students amidst the pandemic that has wrought death and disruption across the United States.”

Joining Massachusetts in the lawsuit are the attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The lawsuit alleged that the administration’s “actions are arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because they reverse previous guidance without explanation, input, or rationale,” adding that the new guidelines violated “the Administrative Procedure Act – and fail to consider the need to protect public health and safety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The lawsuit includes a request for immediate preliminary relief blocking the rule from going into effect while the case is litigated, and the attorneys general has requested a hearing as soon as possible,” the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said in a press release.

Announced on July 6, the ICE’s controversial order said that international students who are only offered online courses in the upcoming semester “must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.”

Those who violate the rules “may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings,” the ICE said.

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